Why I Hate Gerber
There are Better Paths to Slam
I come across many players who use Gerber. I use Gerber sparingly; I always mark it on my convention card, but I only use it after a NT bidding sequence. Since 1NT - 4NT is a quantitative raise, showing 15-16 HCPs and interest in a NT slam, RKC blackwood is not a good option, so we need another convention to ask for aces. Thus, 1NT - 4C is ace-asking with strong slam interest. This is the ONLY time I use Gerber.
To begin with, let’s review what "Traditional" Gerber" is. It is a conventional bid of 4C, usually a jump to 4C. which is aksing partner to tell how many aces s/he has in his/her hand. Responses are “up the line”:
4D - 0 or 4 aces
4H - 1 ace
4S - 2 aces
4NT - 3 aces
After hearing that all the aces are accounted for, one can then bid 5C to ask for kings. The answers are similar:
5D - 0 or 4 kings
5H - 1 king
5S - 2 kings
5NT - 3 kings
There is also Roman Key Card Gerber, where instead of just counting aces, you count key cards, which are the 4 aces plus the king of the agreed-upon (or implied) trump suit. That makes 5 key cards. In addition, there is a chance to reveal whether or not you have the queen of trump, either directly, or via a second bid (usually the next bid up the line after partner’s response to your RKC ask). The two most common variants of RKC Gerber are 1430 and 3014; here are the answers for 1430:
5D: 1 or 4 key cards
5H: 0 or 3 key cards
5S: 2 key cards without the queen of trump
5NT: 2 key cards and the queen of spades
Note: 3014 simply reverses the meaning of the 5D and 5H responses.
So, there it is. Gerber, in all its Glory. At first glance, it really is a nice convention. I really want to like the RKC variant. I think I would use 1430 Gerber if I didn’t hate it so much. :)
Why do I hate Gerber? My friends who use the convention routinely point to the fact that you can find out the “bad news” early enough to be able to bail out at the game level if slam is not possible. While this is true, my response is that one shouldn’t ask for aces unless slam is a high probability; if you find out you DON”T have slam, then settling for a 5H or 5S contract is not a worry.
I much prefer the combination of control bids and RKC Blackwood. This gives a much, much clearer picture of your combined hands, and allows each side to not only show aces, and key cards, but to show voids, which are powerful slam-going features. Gerber cuts out the ability to show controls, which is one of the reasons I dislike it. It also prevents the use of a very useful bid called a splinter bid. Both control bids and splinter bids are powerful bids to describe key features of a hand. Why would I use a convention that precludes two other slam-going conventions?
So, no Gerber for me. The combination of splinter bids, control bids, and RKC Blackwood provides a much richer array of tools to find slam. Plus, I can begin to show aces/voids (i.e., first-round controls) even earlier than Gerber would allow, undermining its sole positive attribute!
So, first, let's set some foundational rules as to how this works:
Rule 1: Once a trump suit is established, any new suit bid at the 4 level (or a jump to a new suit at the 3 level) by opener is showing first-round control in that suit, i.e., either an ace or a void.
Rule 2: Once opener shows a control, any non-trump suit bid by responder is also showing first-round control in that suit.
Rule 3: With no more controls to bid, either partner can return to the trump suit.
Rule 4: Once game is bid, if the other partner bids a new suit beyond game, that is showing yet another control; if it is a suit that has already been bid as a control, it is showing second round control (i.e., a protected king or a singleton).
Rule 5: Also, once controls are exhausted, or game has been bid, if one side still has slam interest, they may bid 4NT (RKC Blackwood) to inquire about key cards. Similar to RKC Gerber, RKC Blackwood has two variants: 1430 and 3014. Here are the responses to 4NT in the 1430 version:
5C: 1 or 4 key cards
5D: 0 or 3 key cards
5H: 2 key cards without the queen of trump
5S: 2 key cards with the queen of trump
Following a 5C or 5D response, if the blackwood bidder is satisfied that all the key cards are accounted for, s/he can bid the next suit up (i.e., 5D following 5C, or 5H following 5D) to ask if responder has the queen of trump. If the answer is “no”, responder bids small slam in the agreed upon trump suit. If the answer is “yes”, then he either bids the suit with his/her lowest ranking king (now showing both the queen of trump AND a specific king), or bids 5NT to show the queen of trump without any kings to show. If the asker can now account for all the key cards, he can ask for a missing king by bidding 5NT; partner will then bid the suit containing his/her lowest-ranking king. If there is not king, partner will bid 6 of the agreed-upon trump suit.
This one-two punch of first bidding controls, then RKC blackwood, then filling in the gaps by asking for the queen of trump or a missing king paints the most accurate possible picture of the combined hands. Using these tools, I have 'discovered' slams with as few as 22 combined high-card points!
Let’s look at a slam bidding conversation:
1S - pass - 3S - pass
Responder’s jump to 3S shows an invitational hand and 4 spades
4C - pass - 4H - pass
Opener’s 4C bid is not Gerber! Instead, it shows first-round control in clubs. Clearly, opener has a big hand with slam interest. Responder then continues by showing first-round control in hearts and denies first round control in diamonds.
4NT - pass - 5C - pass
Opener has enough information now to ask for the total number of key cards. Responder indicates that he has 1 key card. This implies that the heart control was the ace, it seems, or it was a void with the king of trump. Opener can deduce which is true by looking at his/her hand.
5D- pass - 5H - pass
Here, opener is saying that all the key cards are accounted for, and now asks if responder has the queen of spades by bidding the next suit up following his response to Blackwood. Responder’s bid of 5H says “Yes, I have the queen of spades, and the king of hearts as well!”
Opener has enough information to confidently bid a GRAND slam with fewer than the suggested 37 points.
There is so much information passed in this auction! MUCH more than Gerber would have revealed. This is why I hate Gerber.